First Ride Review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S—The Engine is King!

When a power cruiser is this crazy good and ridiculously fast, it almost doesn’t have to be handsome. But this one is.

They say: "The engine is king."
We say: "You bet it is."

Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali wandered into the breakfast room and sat down with a table full of journalists the day after this collection of scribblers, coders, and general malcontents rode the 2016 XDiavel. He seemed genuinely curious to know what we thought, what we liked and didn't, and what we would change if we could. That's not so surprising; Domenicali had been asking similar questions as he rode with us all the previous day. Yes, instead of hanging out at the pool or answering his email, Claudio was geared-up and in the scrum with us. (I'll answer your next question now: He rides well.)

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, action shot
Feet forward! How strange is it to see a Ducati rider’s heels from the front? Thankfully, the XDiavel’s riding position feels fine—the reach to the grips is moderate and the footpegs are close enough to keep you from feeling totally stretched out.©Motorcyclist
Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, static
A distinctive Omega-shaped daytime running light is standard on the XDiavel S. Ducati wants you to recognize the bike even in a set of fuzzy rearviews.©Motorcyclist
Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, Claudio Domenicali, Broc Glover
A lunch of champions. Ducati’s Claudio Domenicali, head of Ducati Corse during its World Superbike heyday, with Broc Glover, six-time motocross champion.©Motorcyclist

But when Domenicali was asked what kind of market research went into conceiving and building the XDiavel, he shrugged a little and said, “Well, we build motorcycles that interest us. For sure the cruiser market is big. It’s right for us to go into that place but with a product true to our personality. We wanted something with a lot of performance and also a lot of style.” After fielding a comment about the XDiavel’s tiny passenger perch, Domenicali again shrugged, “Yes, it’s true. But to make it bigger would destroy the style. That is what this motorcycle is about: style and performance together. In a Ducati way.”

Style you can judge for yourself, but there’s no question the XDiavel is impressive and menacing in person. Long and low, yes, but also thick and purposeful—very much in the power cruiser realm. No wasted space. In truth, there’s a lot going on here, from the darkened engine, partial trellis frame, elaborate swingarm, bright radiator shrouds and swingarm pivot pieces, and black (matte in the base bike, gloss with the S) steel tank bridging the semi-pullback handlebar and the amoeba-shaped seat. But it all hangs together, and the vague sense that the XDiavel is very much connected to the regular Diavel holds until you look at a picture of the older bike. Your mind was playing tricks: There’s far more different than the same.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser
Even though it’s intended for conventional cruising duties, the XDiavel retains enough Ducati DNA to put up a great showing on a twisty bit of road.©Motorcyclist

Performance. Yes, this is where it gets interesting. Assume anything with the Diavel name will pack the ponies; the regular Diavel makes 162 hp at the crank and 96 pound-feet of torque. For the XDiavel, Ducati developed the 90-degree V-twin in a couple of different directions, first adding Ducati Variable Timing as debuted on the Multistrada last year. Both intake and exhaust cams get the variable-timing treatment, with the goal of improving low-end and midrange power without sacrificing high-rev thrills, plus a bunch of other benefits like increased efficiency and smoother running. But that’s not all. By stretching the XDiavel’s stroke to 71.5mm (from 67.9mm), displacement grows to 1,262cc, up from 1,198cc. DVT and a very sophisticated engine-management system that includes knock sensors allows a half-point boost in compression ratio to 13.0:1.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, dyno test
A massively broad spread of power comes from engine updates including variable timing for all eight desmodromically operated valves.©Motorcyclist

So, more cubes and compression, and now DVT. Result? Actually a slight drop in peak power and torque (now 156 hp and 95 pound-feet) in the service of a much, much broader powerband. Where the Diavel’s torque peak is way up near 8,000 rpm, the XDiavel has a “double hump” torque curve, peaking first at 5,000 rpm, flattening for a bit, then hitting another peak at 7,500 rpm. Overlay the XDiavel on the Diavel’s dyno sheet and it’s astounding to see how much stronger the DVT engine is below 6,000 rpm.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, engine
Add 3.6mm of stroke to boost the Testastretta’s displacement to 1,262cc, add half a point of compression, and Ducati’s variable valve timing to bring on the torque.©Motorcyclist
Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser
Its bones are Testastretta, but the XDiavel’s new engine has a longer stroke, greater compression ratio, and DVT to spread out the torque like warm Nutella on hot toast.©Motorcyclist

Dyno charts are pretty academic, but the surge you feel as the engine crosses 3,000 rpm and heads to the 5,000-rpm first peak is anything but. In those two thousand revs, the engine goes from 77 to 95 pound-feet of torque. While not as free-revving as, say, the Multistrada or Diavel engine, the X-DVT mill is still extremely lively, making the bike claw for speed with fearsome resolve, the generally excellent traction control doing its best to keep the 240mm-wide, dual-compound rear Pirelli under you. You reflexively clench your knees toward the tank and ball your fists, since the forward foot controls keep you from pushing against the torrent of torque.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser
Oil-operated spools on the cam drives can continuously and independently vary intake and exhaust valve timing to optimize torque throughout the range and make the engine both smoother and cleaner running at low revs.©Motorcyclist

Re-tuning this engine dramatically changes its character, with DVT giving it much better low-rpm manners than the fixed-timing versions of the Testastretta. Plus, the ride-by-wire programming is absolutely spot on—Ducati reps confirm that the pre-production bikes we rode were fitted with “conforming” engine mapping—giving you total control over all this torque. Even the High power mode, which Ducati usually imbues with overly abrupt throttle response, was smooth and predictable here.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, exhaust
Where the Diavel had twin, very visible head pipes and twin silencers, the XDiavel gets a larger under-body canister with catalyst and a pair of stubby ejectors.©Motorcyclist

But refined doesn’t mean dull. The XDiavel will dispatch traffic, slam past dawdling rental cars, and crush every other performance cruiser with startling ease. Oh, you VMAX guys can sit down now. Yeah the Max’s V-4 makes more power and torque, but the 150-pound weight different in favor of the 545-pound (wet) Ducati ends the discussion right there.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, belt drive
Yep, it’s a belt. Ducati’s first, meant to be the strong, silent type.©Motorcyclist

Something is missing, and that’s chain clatter. Ducati took a dive into rubber, with a Gates carbon fiber-reinforced belt final drive, a first for Ducati. It’s not only quiet but manages to smooth some of the big V-twin’s low-speed shuddering—a bit of which remains, despite DVT—making the whole bike seem calmer, far more relaxed than a Diavel would on, let’s say, the car-choked streets of San Diego.

Ducati’s promotional campaign poses the question: Are you ready to try a new position? As suggestive as this sounds, it’s really intended to answer another question: Why the feet-forward riding position? Ducati feels that such a layout will appeal to customers coming from the traditional cruiser ranks, where a low seat, heels-forward, and fists at armpit level is the accepted norm. To be sure customers are satisfied, Ducati has gifted the XDiavel several ergonomic profiles. First of all, the stock footpegs mount to a small subframe to one of three positions, 22.5mm distant. (I rode in the stock, center position and would not have minded trying the more rearward option.) There will also be a kit to mid-mount the pegs in a position similar to the regular Diavel’s. Three handlebar bends will be offered, with the stock fitting the middle of the two. And then you can try any of five seats, including the stock, dished saddle; one is 20mm taller, one 10mm shorter, one is a “touring” saddle, and one is a custom Roland Sands design. (Is there anything Roland Sands won’t touch?)

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, rear wheel
A dual-compound 240/45ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II does its best to put the XDiavel’s torque to the ground. A wide tire means heavy steering at low speeds, but it lightens up when you ride aggressively on the gas.©Motorcyclist

Done considering options? No you’re not. There are actually two XDiavels, the base and S. Mechanically identical, the S adds a diamond-like coating on the Sachs fork, cast-and-machined wheels, an LED daytime running light, and beefier Brembo M50 Monoblock front calipers (otherwise you get the M4-32 radial-mount caliper). Engine spec, riding position, engine calibration, and electronics are the same for both bikes. As expected, Ducati fits the whole UPS truck full of Bosch parts, including ABS (now with an Inertial Measurement Unit to provide Cornering ABS features), selectable traction control, and three power levels conveniently listed under three ride modes: Sport, Touring, and Urban. But there’s one more treat for XDiavel owners, called DPL, for Ducati Power Launch. Settable to three levels, once DPL is engaged you pull in the clutch, select first, and twist the throttle wide open. Depending on the mode, the engine will then rev to between 8,000 and 8,500 rpm and hold there. Then you can “gradually” release the clutch lever and let the altered TC thresholds do their thing.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, front 3/4 shot
An all-new chassis gives the XDiavel 1.4 inches more wheelbase (now 63.6 inches) and 2 degrees more rake (now 30) compared to the Diavel.©Motorcyclist
Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, foot controls
Forward foot controls on a Ducati? Yes, that day has come. Three positions are 22.5mm apart, giving almost 2 inches of total fore-and-aft adjustability.©Motorcyclist

How does it perform? Can’t tell you. Ducati explicitly prohibited us from trying DPL on our ride, and after one journalist attempted it—and nearly ended up in the ditch because he dumped the clutch instead of releasing it gently—we were all warned off in an extra-special, ardently gesticulated way. We’ll have one soon, and my first order of business is to try DPL.

In just about every way, from engine character and performance, styling, and general dynamic competence, the XDiavel cuts strongly against the cruiser grain. It’s that good. You get firm but never harsh suspension with enough travel to get the job done, strong but properly progressive brakes, and solid handling—all at levels the traditional cruiser can’t hope to catch, much less exceed. I would prefer lighter steering, since the bike sometimes fights rolling over on that wide rear tire, but handling is balanced and neutral when hard on the gas. A foot-forward riding position usually sacrifices cornering clearance, but not here; Ducati says the lean angle is 40 degrees. I came close to but never did ding the footpeg feelers during the few opportunities I had to stretch the bike’s legs.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, seat
Handsome and comfortable, at least for the pilot, the XDiavel’s stock seat is low (29.7 inches) but not as asphalt-scraping as some conventional cruisers’. Take pity on your passenger.©Motorcyclist

You can call this a cruiser—hell, Ducati does, so why not?—but it’s capable enough and fast enough to embarrass some supposedly superior sport machines. Keep that in mind when you see your first XDiavel in the wild. Even if the owner is dressed in predictable bad-boy garb, remember that he’s really sitting on a sportbike stretched into recognizably cruiser shapes. But if he’s wearing a dark gray AGV helmet (size XL, in case you’re wondering) and nondescript but very Italian “street” wear, exercise caution. It could be Claudio. And he will want to kick your ass.

Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, dash
An all-color TFT dash lives behind the upper bar clamp, and is just at the bottom of your vision with a full-face helmet. Three layouts are offered in addition to a mode that changes the layout with each of the three ride modes.©Motorcyclist

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
With an engine derived from the DVT Multistrada and an all-new chassis, the XDiavel owes less to the previous (and still current) Diavel than you think.
RIVALS
[Arch KRGT-1][], [Honda F6B][], [Star VMAX][], [Suzuki][] M109R, [Victory][] Octane
TECH
PRICE $22,995
ENGINE 1262cc liquid-cooled 90° V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 156.0 hp @ 9500 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 95.0 lb.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
FRAME Tubular-steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION Marzocchi 50mm fork adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping; 4.3-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 265mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 30.0°/5.1 in.
WHEELBASE 63.6 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 29.7 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 4.7 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 545 lb. wet
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT [ducati.com][]
VERDICT
Just when you thought you understood the Diavel comes the X—torquier, better mannered, still delightfully fast. But even more of a cruiser. Can that be?
Motorcycle review: 2016 Ducati XDiavel S cruiser, rear 3/4 shot
A stubby tail accentuates the XDiavel’s wheelbase. Note the clever cantilevered license plate mount with outrigger LED turnsignals.©Motorcyclist